Amidst all the trouble and chaos, a ray of hope has again come across from Pakistan. The courts finally sentenced five people to death for killing a Christian man Shahzad, along with his pregnant wife Shama, in front of their four children.
The brazen attack on November 9, 2014 sent shockwaves across the globe and put the head of every Pakistani down out of shame.
This incident was not an impulsive act on part of a bunch of lunatics, but a premeditated horror instigated by the employer (or rather the slave owner) who was abusing the victim’s family in his brick kiln as a bonded laborer. Their master apparently got angry with the poor family after concluding that the slaves were trying to break from their chains.
Accusing them of blasphemy triggered a mob of around 1,200 vigilantes to take part in this horrific act. They lynched the couple, then burned them alive in front of their children and hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators.
To add insult, to injury the mob even went to the length of wrapping Shama Bibi in a cotton sheet before throwing the couple into the furnace of the same brick kiln where they used to work. They also smashed the legs and other bones of both victims so they wouldn’t be able to run away from the burning furnace.
Following massive pressure from the media and rights activists, the government felt like taking this incident seriously and arrested 40 people.
After a very long time, the state of Pakistan has again expressed loud and clear that this country will pursue the path of greatness, imposing strict values of justice and equality and making it clear that nobody can live outside the rule of law, and nobody will be allowed to act as a vigilante to pursue their personal grudge or fetishes.
People will not be declared saints after killing a poor Christian couple in a mob-style feast.
I believe no penalty could be enough for the monsters who have the gall to kill a poor man and his pregnant wife in broad daylight, as well as in front of their children. Although I am not a big fan of the death penalty in general, the fact that the perpetrators were given the strictest available punishment under the law sent a message across the board that Pakistan belongs to every single Pakistani regardless of his color and creed.
The conviction is part of a broader wind of change. For the very first time in Pakistan, for example, the Sindh provincial assembly passed a law imposing a life sentence on those found guilty of forced conversion.
Many Shiites and Ahmadis have been killed in recent months. The latest victims are Sheikh Sajid Mahmood (Ahmadi) and the Deputy Superintendent Police Faiz Ali Shigri who were shot dead in Karachi, apparently for being Ahmadi and Shia respectively.
This violence against minorities has been institutionalized through discriminatory laws such as blasphemy laws and brutal fatwas of famous hardline clerics.
After such decrees, committing deeds of terror becomes religious duty for the radicalized followers.
It is a tragedy that the authorities failed to prevent the deadly attacks on Shia and Ahmadi communities. Minorities are not allowed to profess and display their religious affiliation publicly as the country’s majority religious denomination, the Sunnis, control popular opinion.
These common attacks highlight the threat extremist groups pose to religious minorities and the failure of the state to persecute culprits.
One cannot deny the fact that the real issue will not be over, despite stringing up these five men, until the elephant in the room is addressed: discriminatory laws which lead to the exploitation of poor and marginalized communities, be it religious or ethnical minorities, women, children or even transgender, etc.
The bile and hatred stems from a stubborn school of thought which follows a politicized version of religion, which they believe allows them to kill innocents.
Such people openly roam around having been given immunity from persecution. They raise the banner of sectarianism, speak to invoke religious domination, proceed to impose their influences on the lives of the people and agitate the multitude to show their strength, all under the nose of the law.
As a nation, we would be afforded more credibility when we call out discrimination against the people of Kashmir, Burma or anywhere else in the world if we were the ones putting human dignity above anything else.
We must make it clear to the world that these are not just minorities, but Pakistani citizens and humans.
Once we do, that we will earn much more respect from the international community.
Khadija Khan is a Pakistan-based journalist and activist who has worked with various print and electronic media outlets as a reporter and a commentator. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Clarion Project.